In 1975 there was one of the most famous battles of all time that took place in the Araneta Coliseum in a boxing ring measuring 16 feet by 16 feet square. It was billed as the 'Thriller in Manila' between two of the greatest boxers of all time, Muhammed Ali and Smokin Joe Frazier.
Fast forward to the present, and some of the best pool players in the world went toe to toe, cue to cue, just over 2 miles from the Araneta arena in the 'Great White Arena' at Sharks Billiards
on Tomas Morato Avenue in a ‘Ring’ of similar size to that of the boxing ring used 48 years ago. It was another new addition to the ever-growing Matchroom wnt (World nineball tour), the brainchild of another ‘Smokin hot’ Frazier, Emily.
128 players from 20 different countries descended on the Mecca of pool in Quezon City.
68 of those were Filipinos, who the majority of pool fans outside the Philippines will have never heard of, including myself. The reasons for this are usually the difficulty of obtaining a visa and the cost of travel; unless you have a wealthy sponsor willing to put their hand in their pocket to enable you to put balls in their pockets, the chances of seeing these hidden shining stars talents anywhere outside their home country are as rare as a total eclipse on the sun. There were some well-known Filipino players on show, such as 2021 US Open champion Carlo Biado, Hall of Famer and multi-world champion Dennis 'Robocop' Orcollo, Jeffrey 'The Bull' De Luna, and his lesser-known Brother Jack 'The Bulldozer' De Luna, who knew Jeff had a Brother who played? World Cup of Pool champions Johan Chua and James Aranas were in the tournament, plus Roland Garcia and veterans Lee Van Corteza and Warren Kiamco, Anton 'The Dragon'
Raga, who is rarely seen outside of Asia.
Out of the 68 Filipinos that started, 50 of them reached the last 64, 13 of them were in the last 16, and 3 of the four semi-finalists were from the host nation, but none of the above reached the quarter-finals, all beaten by players most of us have never heard of, such is the abundance of quality pool players in the country which just seems to keep churning out incredible players, why is that do you think? Could it be that they see it as a way out of poverty, a chance to travel if they are lucky enough to find sponsors? It could just be the Efren effect, he is idolized here, and it's no surprise either that another great sporting legend and multiple world champion lives here in Manila also, Manny Pacquiao; he loves his pool and even has an annual tournament that he not only sponsors plays in, he is well known here also for supporting the disadvantaged and homeless with his charities and house building projects.
The Filipinos are a calm, caring, mild-mannered nation, 25% of the world's nurses, medical staff, and carers are Filipino, but get them in any kind of arena, and you will see a different side to them, fierce competitors who will fight until their last breath.
Other top names from outside the Philippines that made their way to the inaugural Sharks Open included Fedor Gorst, Aloysius Yapp, Vietnam's number 1 Duong Quoc Hoang, the Japanese Joker Naoyuki Oi made the short trip from Tokyo, World 8 ball champion Chang Junglin and all 3 Ko pin-up boys were in town, also, something I have noticed about the Taiwanese trio is you rarely see a fan ask for a selfie with just one of them, I guess you could call it a 'Selfthree,' they come as a 'Pin Package,' three for the price of one, always smiling, always the most polite people you will see at a tournament, and ready to give you a piece of their time. It must be so nice traveling around with your Brothers playing a sport you love, two world champions already and a third for sure in the future.
The Ko dynasty started with their Father, Ko Chi Ming. He owned a pool room, it had eight tables, and he was Pin Yi's coach. He would often take his eldest son to as many pool halls as he could, as he wanted the future 'Prince of Pool' to get as much experience against better players as possible. Not a bad idea if you want to grow your game. No point in just beating up on players you beat every time with ease; sound advice for those of you reading this who are looking to advance your game. Just a word about Ko Pin Yi's nickname, Corey Duell has had that Monika for some time, so I have been trying to come up with a more fitting, not already taken name for the eldest KO Bro, and I came up with 'King Kobra,' when I first told Pin Yi he proceeded to lower his t-shirt to reveal a tattoo of a Cobra snake on his back, it was kind of spooky, and I am trying to convince him to change his nickname.
Ko Pin Yi took over as Chung’s coach as the role was passed down from Father to son and now from Pin to Chung; when will Chung take over the job of mentor to baby Ko?
His Father recently sold his pool room, but now the Brothers have a practice room in a friend's building with a 9 ft Rasson OX, a Diamond, and a Rasson Chinese 8 ball table, and taking pride of the place is the actual table that was used for the Amway Cup Final in 2018 won by Siming Chen. An interesting fact about Rasson tables, they are made in a city called Chiang Shi, and it’s where the slate mines are, which they use in the manufacture of all Rasson tables. If you notice, the slate on Rasson tables is usually thicker than most other table manufacturers use, probably because the transportation is so expensive to transport. It’s a case of bringing Mohammed to the mountain, which saves on cost.
There was a total prize fund of 100,000 US Dollars up for grabs, 5.5 million Philippine Pesos.
30,000 to the champion, 15,000 to the runner-up, 7,500 to 3rd and 4th, and paid down to the last 32.
The entry fee was just $10, and it was double elimination to the last 64.
1st round was a race to 7
Last 64 race to 9
Last 32 race to 11
Last 8 race to 13
Semi Final race to 15
Final race to 17
The format was 9 ball on the spot
Break from the box with a 3-point rule
Three foul rule
30-second shot clock with only a 10-second extension, one per rack each.
The tables were all the same; Rasson 'Accur's,' made specifically for the Asian market, one of the title sponsors was Andy cloth, it was the shark grey colored cloth in line with Matchroom events, the balls were the Aramith black, and the pockets were approximately 4.25 inche
The great white arena is the second one of its kind. The 'Tiger Arena' is just two blocks from its newer addition which opened just a few months ago. The latest arena is enclosed in glass and sunk below the other six identical Rasson tables, it's not a huge venue, but there is plenty of cueing room around all the tables and seating around the perimeter, and screens are spread around the room like video walls as the main function of the 'Pool pit,' my words not Sharks, well come on, pool is like a religion here, where was I? Oh yes, the main purpose of the 'Great White’ Arena is gambling. They have various challenge matches going on 24/7, and there is a designated stream channel called 'Lucky Break' where you can bet on every rack. Three players will usually participate in a race to 30 racks operating a winner stays on format, the first to 30 wins 20,000PHP, 2nd gets 10,000, and 3rd place gets 5,000PHP.
The reason I am mentioning this in the middle of an article on the Sharks International 9 ball open is to make a point, don't get me wrong, the pool room is amazing, all new and purpose-built, V.I.P. rooms overlook the main room, completely soundproof just like the glass arena itself, you can even sing karaoke as loud as you want and you wouldn't disturb the players below.
It is an upmarket place; it will cost you 250 Pesos for an hour to play, that's roughly 4 dollars 50, more than most other places, but you get what you pay for. It seems like a good time to mention that they also have another pool room called 'Hard Times,' about a 5-minute walk from Sharks, much more lively, and it seems anyone not gambling in the glass box is here. You will see all the top guys playing. I found a game and was beaten badly by someone who wouldn't stand a chance against the lowest-rated player in the tournament a few blocks away.
Ko Ping Chung (Not a spelling mistake) Yes, I know, they are all Ko Pin; why then is Chung known as Ko 'Ping' Chung? It's simple, really, and a mistake, a spelling error by Chinese Taipei immigration, so after Ping sent Naoyuki Oi packing back to the land of the rising sun, he took on 'Devil boy' Patric Gonzales in the semi, he was the only non-Filipino left in the tournament but played near perfect as Patric made 3 or 4 costly errors and key moments and middle Ko was through to the final, but which Filipino would he play? Oliver Villafuerte has a huge reputation amongst a lot of the top players in the world. He has played 15 challenge matches against level with 800 and above fargo rated players and won 10 of them; he is known as Coy Coy, but for some reason that no one can explain, he has recently changed his nickname to 'Batman,' well he did get off to a flying start but Michael Feliciano, 'Agent 44' who is named after a James Bond type character in Filipino movies as he apparently has the same moves and mannerisms of the actor that plays him.
After Batman looked like he was going to run away with the match at 8-4, Feliciano found some form after Oliver had a mini meltdown, and Michael ended up winning yet another Thriller in Manila to set up the race to 17 final against Ko Ping Chung.
It was the final I had hoped for out of the last four remaining players purely from a viewership point of view; a Filipino against a player from Chinese Taipei would draw an audience from 2 huge pool-loving nations, and they were treated to a final thriller in Manila, Mohammed Ali had given his fight against Joe Frazier that title back in 1975 when he wrote a poem, which he did about most of his opponents, he wrote; "It's gonna be a killa and a thrilla and a chilla when I get that gorilla in Manila."
It turned out to be just that, and after 30 racks, the 27-year-old Taiwanese Ko Ping Chung ended Michael Feliciano's dream of winning the first-ever Sharks International 9 Ball Open Championship in his own backyard. I wonder if we will get to see more of him traveling abroad to more Matchroom ranking events after pocketing the 15,000-dollar runners-up prize? Ko Ping Chung moved one place above his Brother Pin Yi in the Matchroom money list rankings with his cheque for 30,000 dollars and moved ahead of his coach in the Fargo ratings also.
I had an amazing six days in the booth, the first 2 with local commentator Bob Guerrero who unfortunately got sick. No, not sick of my voice; at least, I don't think so. Manny, Genesis, and Kelvin jumped in with me from time to time, and I ticked off another bucket list item when I got to commentate the last three days with Sky Sports and ESPN legend Jay Helfort.
I got a day off, but then it was back in the booth for Fedor Gorst against Dennis Orcollo for a race to 90 over three days.
To be continued.............
Also coming soon
Wei Tzu Chen vs Rubilen Amit Race to 90
Kelly Fisher vs Chezka Centeno Race to 90
Kelly/Wei Wei vs. Rubilen/Denise Santos Race to 90 scotch doubles
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